Guest view: Federal investment in biofuels will drive prices downward

October 12, 2013 

In the editorial Sept. 22, "Biofuels experiment doesn't add up," the author says U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart's proposal to invest in military biofuels lacks economic sense. Before dismissing this important legislation on a single point, look at the bigger picture.

History demonstrates government investment in high-cost technology is a powerful force in driving prices downward. Consider your smart phone. In the 1960s, federal military and space programs were the main buyers of then-costly microchips. Thanks to this investment, microchip prices dropped by a whopping 98 percent in a matter of years, making smartphones and other personal electronics accessible to all.

While some early prices paid for military jet fuels may seem staggering, the price fell 40 percent in two short years. Continued investment in research and development will bring that price down significantly more.

Now consider the prices of petroleum. Our military pays very real financial, human and logistical costs for U.S. dependence on imported oil. Nowhere is this more critical than the Air Force. The Air Force is the largest military energy consumer, spending $9.7 billion on fuel. Incredibly, more than $8 billion in fuel costs goes to fueling the airborne tankers that deliver just 6 percent of its annual fuel usage.

Homegrown alternatives that do not require billions to transport are an important, logical investment.

The Biofuels Development Act leverages our region's resources to create a fuel that powers a fleet of aircraft. The biofuels industry has already created 400,000 American jobs. This bill will bring those opportunities here by providing work for researchers, farmers, construction workers, educators and more. Best of all, every drop of homegrown fuel is one less drop of expensive, imported oil from countries that are less than friendly to U.S. interests.

I applaud Enyart for supporting Scott, creating opportunities for farmers, protecting our environment and defending our national security. The Biofuels Development Act represents a new future for Scott Air Force Base and our entire region. Kudos to Enyart for his leadership on this issue.

John Caupert is executive director of the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

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